Riker's Mailbox

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Andrew Sullivan (one of the more intelligent and sensible believers I've stumbled upon during my daily internet-scouring) had some interesting things to say during his online debate with my junior-hero*, Sam Harris. The full text of their back-and-forth has been posted all over the atheist corner of the internet, and I highly recommend you take the time to read it. Here it is:

Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan Debate

As I was making my way through the piece, all doe-eyed with my man-crush on Sam Harris and his elegant prose, I got caught up in a game of "how would I respond to some of these things?" What follows is one example.

Andrew wrote:

"Is this sense of an after-life an illusion? We cannot know for sure. But death isn't an illusion. And when death is nearest, faith emerges most strongly. You can either see this as a reason to pity people of faith - they're too weak to look mortality in the face and deal with it. Or you can see this as part of the wisdom of people of faith: we know what we are, and we have reached a way of dealing with it as humans, full humans, not just arguments without minds and bodies. Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.

But I believe this position misses the point. He seems to think atheism only comes into play at the moment before death**. It implies that his understanding amounts to, "atheists think believers aren't brave enough to admit that when you die, you cease."

But... no! That's not what we're saying!

We're not saying, "if you're a brave and smart atheist like me, you can deal with death being the end." In point of fact, we're saying, "It looks very likely that death is the end, so RIGHT NOW and the remainder of our lives until death are the most cherishable, and the most perishable things we have. They ought not be wasted. All opportunity costs must be considered. Spending even an ounce of effort on plans for yourself after death takes at least an equal (and likely larger) amount away from the only life you are guaranteed to have.

That is why it's such an important goal to fight the desire of the eternal***.

* - I know what you're thinking... and the answer of course is Dawkins.
** - maybe because that's the moment that the majority of the believer's life is spent looking forward to?
*** - At least, we should try to fight it on the spiritual plane. I'm all for promoting the desire of the eternal through technological innovation.

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